Inside the home of a Romford hoarder
PUBLISHED: 15:31 19 March 2015 | UPDATED: 09:46 20 March 2015
“That’s the worst one we’ve ever seen, we’re gonna struggle to get in there.”
Those are the words of Havering’s housing manager Nick Holland, who has just executed a public health warrant at a Romford address with contractor Chris Vincent.
After three years of hoarding-related problems, Harold Hill locksmith Tony Harvey has removed the board covering the front door to reveal the contents of the vacated home. And there’s lots of it.
From floor to ceiling the hallway is piled with boxes, newspapers, plastic bags and indescribable junk.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Certainly not since my four sisters all lived at home.
"We had one house where the person was soiling in a bag and just throwing it across the room. The smell was so bad the contractor threw up."
On the stairs are towers of tinned goods, books and more junk, quite neatly stacked considering. There are rat droppings outside the front door.
“We knew he was a hoarder,” said Chris, now resigned to the fact there’s no proper entry route. “Hoarding is a mental condition. They seem to think everything is important, and build a barrier around them.”
Chris then explains the owner, who he finally spoke to two days ago, had told him a squirrel “broke into the house and caused the damage.”
“He still lives in the borough,” he adds. “I told him what we were going to do and what would happen if it was as bad as I thought it would be, and he just said ‘okay’.”
Hoarding disorder was officially recognised in May 2013 in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Compulsive hoarding is defined by the NHS as “excessively acquiring items that appear of little or no value and not being able to throw them away, resulting in unmanageable amounts of clutter.”
It can be associated with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety and depression, though Dr David Mataix-Cols, a senior psychiatry lecturer at King’s College in London said recent research showed it is mostly “independent from other neurological and psychiatric disorders”.
Bereavement and a lack of family or friends have also been linked to the condition, which is still not fully understood by experts.
In May 2013 Hoarding Disorder was officially recognised in the DSM-V – the fifth edition of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which contains all officially recognised mental disorders.
It is found across all ages, ethnicities, genders, religions, education levels, and sexualities.
St George’s Hospital in south west London provides home-based treatments for hoarders with OCD, and assessment of people without an OCD diagnosis.
Research shows it becomes a problem for people in their 30s, though the average age of a hoarder seeking treatment is about 50.
“We had one house where the person was soiling in a bag and just throwing it across the room,” said Chris. “The smell was so bad the contractor threw up.”
With the house swiftly boarded up again, Tony is off to his next job. He regularly carries out eviction and gaining entry work with his company Lockhouse Security to deliver legal papers.
“It’s eerie,” he says. “Yesterday I was in a house and it felt like the occupier had just popped out. I was in a place where there was a knife near the door. I always observe a place first, no one has my back.
“It’s not easy, there was one young couple who were trying to pay a mortgage and the woman fell pregnant. He just couldn’t do it, couldn’t afford it. But the landlords aren’t being paid. It’s hard for them too.”
Chris is planning what happens next for the council.
“We’ve got to take drastic action, because they won’t,” he explains. “We’ll request he clears the property within 28 days, or 56 on appeal. But we don’t expect him to.
“We then get contractors in and issue an enforced sale. It’s the easiest way to get the property back. We sell it and take the money owed. The owner gets the difference.”
There are about 200 properties of this sort in the borough – though none as bad.
“We must come down hard because it’s causing problems for the neighbourhood and borough,” says Nick. “We go through an agent who sells it and it goes back on the market. Once it’s brought back into use it’s job done.”
“We’re slowly getting there,” says Chris.
It’s a long journey from start to finish, and one the neighbours endure more than anyone.
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